Onset or Outset?

Onset and Outset have similar meanings. The differences in their meanings, however, are connotative. They derive their meanings in context (all the associations they bear in addition to their literal meaning).


Onset means ‘from the beginning’; however, it carries the connotation of describing something unpleasant. Onset can be used to express the beginning of future events as well as past events.

For instance; one may refer to the onset of the coronavirus, the onset of the economic depression, the onset of the allergies, etc.

  • The onset of the pandemic has disrupted lifestyles.
  • We have to stay protected before the onset of the flu season.

Originally, ‘onset’ referred to a sudden attack (during the mid-1500s).


Outset is a closed compound (two words joined together without hyphen) word that means ‘from the beginning’. It is usually used with actions and events that have already started.

Outset is used to refer to something that is factual or happens from the start of an event or process and maintains its veracity or continues to happen throughout the event or process.

There is no significant connotation attached to the word, outset. In using this word, you should note that ‘at the outset’ means ‘at the beginning of’ and ‘from the outset’ means ‘happens at the beginning and continues to happen’ or occurred in the past.

  • We should have made that declaration at the outset of the programme. (We should have made that declaration at the beginning of the programme)
  • We have been making that declaration from the outset of the programme. (The declaration was made throughout the programme)
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